The Pharmacy Show Globes – Drug Development Example

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"The Pharmacy Show Globes" is a good example of medical research on drug development. Pharmacy, as a profession, has been around for ages. However, for pharmacists or apothecaries in the times before licenses and recognized degrees came into being, there was no way of establishing their identity as competent druggists. For popularity, they depended on word-of-mouth publicity, and for showing off their skills, they depended on – Show Globes. Show globes were used as a symbol by pharmacists from the early 1880s to the 1950s, just as barbers used the barber pole (“ Drugstore Museum Show Globes” ).

Show globes are large glass balls or vessels of various shapes and designs filled with colored liquid, hung outside a pharmacy, or placed in windows for display. This paper discusses the practice of using show globes, the mythologies associated with it, and the actual relevance of their use in olden times.     Show Globe design  Show globes were made by adding colored water or liquids prepared by mixing various chemicals. The coloration formula used by every pharmacist was special and was his distinguishing feature. By generating the perfect color, pharmacists displayed their skills with pride.

Apart from plain globes with homogenous coloring, striped globes were also made by layering different colors and mixing liquids of varying densities. The glass globes from the 1880s to 1930s  were  usually hand blown and placed on beautifully carved stands or hanged using chains. From 1930 onwards, globes were lighted with electric bulbs and had metal bases.       Show-and-tell  The main purpose of show globes was to prove the competency of a druggist. By preparing and displaying beautifully colored liquids in their globes, druggists proved their ability to skillfully extract and mix chemicals.       Mythology  A long-standing yet untrue belief about show globes is that they were used by pharmacists to show the health status of a town.

According to this myth, show globes filled with red water suggested that a town is suffering from an epidemic and had to be avoided by people who were intending to stay there. This belief has been dismissed due to a lack of logic. In case of an epidemic in olden days, the houses of sick people were  quarantined  and warning signs were placed on their doors.

Information about the epidemic would be displayed on posts or printed in newspapers. The use of show globes for indicating an epidemic thus seems illogical.     The relevance of Show Globes    Show globes have been used by pharmacists in olden times to prove their “ chemical prowess” (“ Drugstore Museum Show Globes” ). In those times, crude drugs were extracted from medicinal plants such as digitalis by adding cold or hot water and crushing them with mortar and pestle. By mixing chemicals extracted from the ground paste using alcohol or other chemicals, pharmacists prepared medicines. It was difficult to differentiate between authentic and quack pharmacists due to a lack of standard education and licensing.

Thus, educated pharmacists used to show globes to display their skills and to be recognized as worthy practitioners.     Show globes are not in use anymore. They, however, are an important constituent of the beautiful history of pharmacy as a profession.    


“Drugstore Museum Show Globes”. DrugstoreMuseum (2004). Web. 2 October 2011. < >.
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